What is accessibility?

Accessibility is being able access (get to and use) the opportunities, places, goods and services in the world around you. 

So for education, accessibility may mean the ability to get to school in the first place. Accessibility might be about being able to physically enter a classroom, or accessibility might be about being able to engage with and understand a lesson.

A well laid out classroom, thoughtful resources and an open approach will help everyone learn and our job as educators is to provide an environment that does just that. This course will help you achieve this.

There are physical, sensory and attitudinal barriers to accessibility.

Physical barriers to access – these are the most obvious barriers. They include stairs, narrow entrances, steep or uneven ground, or broken pavements, which can prevent people in wheelchairs, on crutches or walking sticks from entering a place. They can include high checkout or reception desks, preventing people from seeing over the top or being able to safely hand over payments. Products on high or deep shelving can put things out of reach. Cluttered environments can create trip hazards.

There are many examples that affect people – when have you had trouble reaching something on a shelf? Or perhaps you couldn’t enter a building because the door or gate was blocked, jammed shut or too heavy?

A blue character in a wheelchair is at the bottom of a staircase that has an arrow indicating up. He has question marks around his head showing he is confused.

By designing our world to make it physically accessible for one person, we make it accessible for many more. In the previous section we discussed smoothing over a road, which can benefit many. Likewise, a ramp will assist someone in a wheelchair but it is also useful for a kid with a broken leg, a senior with arthritic knees, a parent pushing a buggy and a janitor with a cart full of supplies. Clear signage and guiderails will support someone with visual or hearing impairments but also help a person in hurry, or someone managing a noisy group of children, who might not have time to ask for help.

Sensory barriers to access – It is especially important to remember that access is more than just ramps and signs. Sensory factors also affect how accessible a place is. Entering somewhere that is crowded, so you run the risk of touching someone, might be unthinkable to you. A noisy environment will mean that someone who is deaf or blind will struggle to hear or process what an individual is saying to them. A busy environment may be impossible for someone with autism to process and cope with, making shopping centres in accessible.

Think about how much sensory factors affect you. Do you avoid making spicy food for your parents because they cannot tolerate the flavours? Do you avoid certain clothing because of the way it feels on your skin? Do you avoid certain shops because they are laid out in a confusing way, are too tiring to walk around or play loud music?

Blue character is looking worried and has their hands up in front of them, indicating they do not want to be touched.

Sensory factors impact the choices we make on a daily basis – the food we put in our mouths, the perfumes we use, the places we visit, the radio stations or TV programs we choose. We will help you consider the sensory factors in your classroom to make it more accessible.

Attitudinal barriers to access – People are often prevented from going somewhere or doing something because of their own attitude, or that of others. Some places may not be welcoming to people with additional or specific needs. People may show displeasure if children talk too loudly or an autistic child is showing distress. Alternatively, you may feel embarrassed to go to a place because you don’t want to make a fuss or ask for ‘special treatment’.

Your attitude and the way you are treated by people makes a huge difference to your ability to access a place or service. This is can be the hardest change to make as attitudes and behaviours are often ingrained, or it can be the easiest change to make, after all, no money or resources are needed, it just requires doing things a little differently.

A person is talking to someone who is looking confused or worried.

Key learning points.

~ Accessibility is about being able to access the places, spaces, goods and services you want and need.

~ barriers to accessibility can be physical, sensory or attitudinal 


~ Have you ever had difficulty accessing something you wanted to use or a place you wanted to visit? What stopped you?

~ What could have been in place to help you?

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